Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Life Is Shorter Than You Think It Is

(re-blogged from August, 2011)

“Not just that every day more of our life is used up and less and less of it is left, but this too: if we live longer, can we be sure our mind will still be up to understanding the world--to the contemplation that aims at divine and human knowledge? If our mind starts to wander, we’ll still go on breathing, go on eating, imagining things, feeling urges and so on. But getting the most out of ourselves, calculating where our duty lies, analyzing what we hear and see, deciding whether it’s time to call it quits--all things you need a healthy mind for...those are gone.
So we need to hurry.
Not just because we move daily closer to death but also because our understanding--our grasp of the world--may be gone before we get there” ~ Marcus Aurelius

In a way, it’s worse than I expected; yes, my life is short (the food is terrible, and there are such small portions), but also,  I may not make it from one end to the other with my essential self intact.

Not only that, I am constantly distracted. I am only rarely fully present in any given moment. My mind is lost in future schemes and fantasies, or dwelling on past injustices and glories.  Or sometimes my mind is nowhere. Is this meditation?

I don’t have any special regard for folks who pursue monastic vocations. Anything that takes a person out of the battlefield of life and into the commentary booth is fine and understandable as a lifestyle choice, but not especially noble. What I’m doing this moment isn’t especially noble. It’s necessary for me--because my brain gets clogged up if I don’t vent my thoughts from time to time--but it’s not special.  I’m just wading out of the current to sit on the river bank for a minute. I’m getting perspective.

It’s better to be in the stream though. That’s where the action is, and that’s where things matter most. But it’s very hard to remain in the current for long periods of time without getting caught up in it. It can be strong and surprising, and it’s easy to lose track of meta-goals. It’s easy to get lost in simply trying not to fall down on all the slippery rocks. Maybe that’s meditation.

Whatever the case, Marcus Aurelius caught me by surprise with this one. What’s the point in prolonging my life if it’s going to be a wasteland of distractions? I need to be as conscious and as aware of each moment as I can be, and when I do need to take a breather on the shore, I need to make it as purposeful as possible.

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